Historic Comforts of the PNW’s Great Lodges

written by Sheila G. Miller

Crater Lake Lodge was not originally built to withstand the heavy snowfall at the national park. (photo: Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society)

Think for a moment of the foresight required to take in a remarkable landscape, then set about making it a space that everyone can enjoy. Then go one step further—within that national park or monument, set aside funds for an architectural feat that will serve as a place to rest after a long day of hiking for generations to come.

So it is with the great lodges of Oregon and Washington, which are found in some of the region’s most beautiful places. From the Tudor pitch of a roof to locally crafted furniture, these lodges have nestled into our landscapes and become part of the scenery, but they deserve a look in their own right. Here are the stories of some of these wonderful buildings. 

Timberline Lodge 

It’s only right to start with the most heralded of lodges—Timberline, on Mount Hood. 

“Whether you think of it as an art gallery masquerading as a hotel or the other way around, it’s a very special place, eminently worthy of the most thoughtful, careful stewardship,” wrote Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in the foreword to Sarah Baker Munro’s book, Timberline Lodge: The History, Art, and Craft of an American Icon.

The lodge, built by hand during the Great Depression above 6,000 feet on Mount Hood, still plays a leading role in this thriving ski resort. 

There were other inns on Mount Hood before Timberline, but none that can hold a candle to its glory. The Cloud Cap Inn, built in 1889 and still in use by search and rescue volunteers on the north side of the mountain, was an “unpeeled log structure with stone fireplaces,” Munro wrote. Other inns also existed on the south side of the mountain. 

Timberline employees restore textiles.

According to Munro, Oregon’s Works Progress Administration director in September 1935 applied for $246,893 to build a hotel on Mount Hood’s south side. Three more applications followed—for construction, road improvements and landscaping. The result: $968,636 from the WPA. It was an unlikely WPA project—these traditionally had low material costs and high labor costs. After an early design was abandoned because of high costs, the Forest Service recommended Gilbert Stanley Underwood to design Timberline Lodge, Munro wrote. The resulting, rustic design is similar to other Underwood lodges such as two in Utah and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. Rustic, though, was not a word those supporting the development of the lodge used—they preferred “Cascadian,” according to Munro.

“Whether you think of it as an art gallery masquerading as a hotel or the other way around, it’s a very special place, eminently worthy of the most thoughtful, careful stewardship.”

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Construction began in early 1936, though snow continued to pile up as workers tried to clear a road to the site. Groundbreaking took place in June 1936, and snow held off until December of that year, allowing workers to make headway. Interior work took place throughout the winter. A woodworking shop in Portland was opened in 1936 by the WPA to handle the Timberline Lodge furniture, according to Munro. Another shop for textiles was created at the Elks Temple. 

The lodge was dedicated in September 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A lunch afterward featured, of course, Columbia River salmon and a crab leg cocktail. The lodge opened in February 1938.

Look closer at the exterior, and you’ll find carved wood themes—Oregon Trail motifs, “The Year in Moons” from a 1930s Camp Fire Girls handbook, thunderbird and ram, buffalo and bear heads. The defining feature of Timberline Lodge is certainly the enormous fireplace in the center of the headhouse. It is surrounded by huge hand-hewn columns supporting the ceiling. 

The lodge would close during World War II, from 1942 to 1945, but reopened the following winter. Today, it looks nearly identical to its original design. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and today draws nearly 2 million visitors each year. 

Crater Lake Lodge

Crater Lake Lodge was nearly demolished in the 1980s. 

Not all lodges are created equal. Take Crater Lake Lodge, for example. 

“The truth is that the old Lodge, built in bursts beginning in 1909, was a dump,” wrote Christine Barnes in her book, Great Lodges of the West. The national park was established in 1902, and the mock Tudor lodge was started seven years later. 

The average annual snowfall at Crater Lake is 43 feet, and the most snowfall on record for the national park was 73 feet in the winter of 1932-33. But it was built, according to Barnes, with a light wood frame instead of heavy timbers. The roof was shingled with wood and stained green, instead of an original plan for tiles. Due to a lack of funding, builders often took shortcuts and didn’t have the right supplies or equipment for the project, according to Barnes. In fact, while the lodge was still under construction in 1913 and 1914, most of the roof collapsed. 

When it opened in 1915, the lodge wasn’t complete. After years of struggle, the National Park Service bought the lodge in 1967, then leased it back to the previous owners for decades, even though it was called a fire hazard and was falling apart. By the 1980s, according to Barnes, the park service recommended the lodge be demolished and a new hotel be built in its place. A 1989 report suggested it was likely the great hall and guest rooms in the middle section of the building might collapse. The lodge was closed in 1989. 

It looked great from the outside, but wasn’t designed for the amount of snow that covered its roof for months at a time and, as a result, the roof sagged and it was a chilly, low-rent spot. The Historic Preservation League of Oregon started pushing to save the lodge. It wasn’t fair that such a beautiful place, with what many consider the bluest lake in the world at a depth of nearly 2,000 feet, should have such a mess of a lodge on its shores.

Using historical photos of the main floor, the restoration (and really, almost entire rebuild) began. 

The lodge reopened in May 1995, thanks to a six-year renovation that cost $15 million. 

Today, according to Barnes, the lodge can support 350 pounds of snow per square foot. 

Paradise Inn

Employees of the Paradise Inn gather for a group shot circa 1927.

Mount Rainier National Park was established in 1899, the fifth national park in the country. When the park was established, private accommodations for visitors already existed. But according to Great Lodges of the West, Stephen T. Mather, then-assistant to the Interior Secretary and eventually the director of the National Park System, wanted more. After taking a group on a trip around the mountain, he and his assistant started a campaign to create the Rainier National Park Company, and the plan for an elaborate lodge in Paradise Valley began to take shape.

The idea was for the inn to look somewhat like the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone, though not quite as grand. Work took place in the summer and fall of 1916, despite roads being cut off until August 25 because of snow—some materials had to be brought in by horse trail. The Inn opened in July 1917, and cost $100,000. 

For the first month, according to Barnes, no one could reach the inn by road because of snow—but guests arrived nevertheless, on ski, sleigh and horseback. 

Over the years, pieces of the inn have changed—more beams prevent some snow damage, and in the 1920s a mezzanine was added. The inn also features distinctive furniture, built over seven seasons, by Hans Fraehnke, who also customized things like mailboxes, a piano and a grandfather clock. The result? A woodsy feel that remains today. 

The NPS recommended demolishing the inn in the 1960s, according to Barnes, but the public wouldn’t stand for it, and money was set aside in the late 1970s to restore the inn. Still, Barnes wrote in her book, “the tremendous lateral crush of snow and ice on the uphill side of the building has played havoc with the design.” Engineers continuously work to reinforce the facility, and other upgrades have also taken place. But because the bulk of the interior has remained the same since the 1920s, it appears untouched by time.

Lake Crescent Lodge

The dining room at Lake Crescent Tavern, circa 1915. Crescent Lake Tavern was established in the early 1900s.

Olympic National Park was established in 1938, but the area was beloved by outdoor enthusiasts much earlier. Back in 1911, a modern road was built to give access to Lake Crescent from Port Angeles, and in 1914 a ferry service was added, according to Barnes in her book, Great Lodges of the National Parks, Volume II. In 1915, a couple bought 8 acres of lakefront property and built a small hotel and cottages along the lake, calling it Singer’s Tavern (and later, Singer’s Lake Crescent Tavern). Visitors arrived by boat, then spent their days in the outdoors before attending formal dinners in evening wear, Barnes wrote. 

Other resorts were all along the lake, but the lodge was the most formal and first-class of the bunch. Other than the Rosemary Inn and Lake Crescent Lodge, both of which still stand today, all resorts on the lake were torn down or burned to the ground. 

There was a five-hole golf course on the land, and a vegetable garden and apple and cherry trees. In 2000, according to Barnes, the National Park Service conducted a “cultural landscape inventory” and found the gardens—planted by original owner Julia Singer—had matured to include her roses as well as a variety of plants such as Oregon grape, Japanese maple and English holly. 

In 1927, the Singers sold the resort, by then almost 100 acres with nearly forty cabins. A decade later, President Roosevelt stayed overnight at the lodge before going on to Lake Quinault Lodge and other locations. The park was created the following year and included the property, which remained privately owned until 1951. The park service purchased the resort, Barnes wrote, and over time many of the older cabins and outbuildings were taken down. A row of original cottages was demolished in the mid-’80s and replaced by cabins that used the same design from the ’20s. While parts of the original lodge were renovated and moved around to better accommodate lake views, the main lounge remains intact today, all the way down to the Roosevelt elk hanging over the hearth of the tiered fireplace. 

Lake Quinault Lodge

Cars are parked in front of Lake Quinault Lodge, likely in the late 1920s.

Down the road from Lake Crescent Lodge is another perfect lake lodge in Olympic National Forest, just outside the national park—Lake Quinault Lodge, which opened in 1926. An original hotel, Quinault Lake Hotel, was built as early as 1903. For a time, there was a floating dance pavilion and boathouse docked in front of the hotel, according to Barnes, and business was brisk until August 1924, when it burned to the ground in just thirty minutes. Only the safe and the piano were saved, Barnes wrote. 

When it was time to build the new lodge, attention turned to Robert C. Reamer, who had already built the Old Faithful Inn and the Canyon Hotel in Yellowstone National Park. 

100,000 feet of lumber was hauled 50 miles on a gravel road to the site, and the site was cleared and construction started in June 1926. According to Barnes, construction was around the clock, “with bonfires to light the construction site.” 

The lodge opened just two months later, in August, fifty-three days after construction began. 

The hotel has a central area with wings on each side, a huge chimney in the center. The building angles toward the lake, and at the top of it all stands a weather vane adorned with Native Americans shooting a bear. 

Today, the design is called “Georgian Northwest,” according to Barnes. 

Oregon Caves Chateau

The Chateau at the Oregon Caves is a different style than other lodges of its time.

Sometimes, you have to think outside the box, and the Chateau at the Oregon Caves is the exception that proves the rule. 

The chateau, in the Siskiyous east of Cave Junction in Southern Oregon,  looks completely different from the other grand lodges of the region. Built by Gust Lium, a local builder from Grants Pass, the lodge is “a prime example of environmentally compatible, rustic architecture,” Barnes wrote.

Construction began in September 1931, and the chateau opened in May 1934. Slotted into the canyon and covered in Port Orford cedar bark, it blends nicely into its surroundings. The chateau was built for $50,000. Unlike many lodges, the main entrance is on the chateau’s fourth floor. Visitors enter a single-story lobby that feels deep and dark like the caves, with the exception of a double-sided fireplace.

The chateau’s dining room features a stream running through it. 

Thirty years after it opened, though, the handsome chateau was nearly destroyed. A flood in 1964 pushed mud and debris onto the chateau, according to Barnes, and people opened doors and broke windows in an effort to let the surge pass through the building. The dining room was filled with 5 feet of gravel and rock. “Steps were ripped from the staircase, French doors torn from the hinges,” Barnes wrote. “The entire foundation had slipped.” Lium helped workers move the building back into place, then died a few months later. Much of the lower three floors had to be replaced. Today, the chateau is undergoing another set of renovations. It is closed through 2020, though the Oregon Caves National Monument remains open.